Sharm Ravindran: Malaysian law firm leader and industry change agent - Asia Law Portal

Sharm Ravindran founded and leads Kuala Lumpur-based Ravindran Advocates & Solicitors.  In this interview with Asia Law Portal, she details the breadth and depth of her legal career – from earliest inspiration – to law firm founder and leader – to legal services sector diversity and inclusivity advocate.

What inspired you to pursue a legal career?

My father was a practicing lawyer in the 1980s and so I grew up surrounded by law books and legal conversations. As a child I spent a fair amount of time at his office, going through his law books, reading case studies. I have also seen him in court and so it was a natural progression for me to follow in his footsteps. Also, I have always had a fascination with narratives and stories, I read extensively in my younger days and contributed opinion pieces frequently to magazines and the local newspapers.    

What led to the founding of Ravindran?

I established Ravindran in 2011, at that time I was in my 7th year of practice, and I felt it was time for me to push my own boundaries and challenge myself to new things. I had started to feel a sense of complacence in my career and my biggest fear in life is complacency or going into a comfort zone. I wanted a challenge. I was confident that I had enough experience and expertise to independently offer my services to clients as I had in my years of employment delved into various areas of legal practice. I wanted to work with companies and people that shared my values and I wanted to help people in business understand how important it is to be equipped with the necessary legal knowledge to be able to run their businesses effectively and independently.

What is your legal specialism and how do you assist clients?

We are a boutique practice that focuses on dispute resolution. We essentially focus on commercial and corporate litigation, arbitration and adjudication. We also focus on helping our clients restructure their business and drafting and negotiating contracts on behalf of our clients. I like to tell my clients that we are not just legal advisors but partners and we are invested in seeing them succeed in all their pursuits. I am also an Adjudicator with the Asian International Arbitration Centre and I enjoy doing construction work whether it is advisory or disputes.

What has been the most challenging – and the most rewarding, aspect – of building Ravindran?

The most challenging aspect for me is juggling the practice of law and running it as a sustainable business. How do we stay relevant and attractive to clients in these competitive times? What can we offer the client that is distinct and unique as opposed to any other law firm? As for the most rewarding aspect- for me its two-fold- firstly, I do it for my people. The people who wake up in the morning and come to the office to work and to make Ravindran the firm that it is. They motivate me every single day, to do better and to be better. Second, my clients who have become friends of the firm. I like the fact that they see us as a partner in their business and a part of their company and they understand that we have their best interest at heart.  

What are some notable business development and marketing initiatives Ravindran has undertaken?

We offer our clients bespoke legal training sessions, based on the type of business they run. Some of the topics we offer are sexual harassment at the workplace, negotiating and drafting of contracts, litigation, employment, intellectual property and wills and trusts.

We also issued Legal FAQs to our clients based on queries, subject matter or latest legal developments in the jurisdiction, so the client is kept abreast on legal developments and basic legal know-hows.

We are constantly in touch with our existing clients, and we try to connect with them on a frequent basis, whether it’s over phone calls, legal updates via email or over drinks. As I mentioned earlier, our clients are friends, and we make it a priority to check up on them.

You were Chairperson of the Gender Equality & Diversity Committee under the Kuala Lumpur Bar between 2018 to 2020.  Tell us about your work there. 

The Gender Equality and Diversity Committee (GEDC) was established in 2017 by the first female Chairperson of the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee, Goh Siu Lin. I was then elected between 2018 and 2020. GEDC is committed to promoting excellence, diversity, respect and inclusion at the Bar consistent with the principles of justice and equality. GEDC aims to lead the development, implementation and initiatives designed to:

  • support a non-discriminatory workplace culture at the Bar;
  • identify and seek to address barriers and unconscious bias that are faced by members based on gender, sexuality or disability which may hamper genuine equality of opportunity;
  • educate members on best equality and diversity practices through the development of introductory and more advanced training modules.

Over the last few years, GEDC has done extensive work in the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) sphere, targeting law firms and lawyers in Kuala Lumpur. We have organized numerous engagements to raise awareness on sexual harassment issues within the Malaysian legal industry, mental health and bullying at the workplace, creating a network/ platform of women lawyers to offer support and assistance with the objective of retaining talent in the legal industry. We commenced “Diversity and Inclusivity” Sessions in 2017 for pupils under the Kuala Lumpur Bar, in collaboration with the Pupils Committee to educate younger lawyers and pupils about the importance of DEI.

You are an Advisor on the Board of Lean in Malaysia, a women empowerment platform for women empowerment in corporate Malaysia. Tell us more about this.

Lean in Malaysia is a non-profit platform focused on addressing two key issues in corporate Malaysia ie. women dropping out of the workforce and the lack of women in senior management positions. Lean in Malaysia comprises of over 20 working committee members and has more than 8,000 community members in Malaysia and a network of more than 300,000 people across the Asian region. Over the past few years, we have worked with numerous partners and supporters who have helped us spearhead our programmes such as the Lean in Career Programme, Masterclasses, Lean In Youth and Lean in UnConference. g committee members and has more than 5,000 #leanincommunity members in Malaysia and a network of more than 300,000 across the Asia region.

You believe strongly that knowledge sharing is fundamental in creating an environment where individuals and companies are aware of their legal rights and remedies.  Tell us more about this.

I believe for any business to be successful they must be equipped with the necessary legal know-how. Most companies view ‘legal’ as mostly ‘risk management’ but if you are supported by the right legal team and are kept abreast with the right legal knowledge, your business will benefit tremendously in cost-cutting and increasing profits. In short, it is fundamental to have the proper legal documentation for all business arrangements, the staff need to be trained on how to identify and manage legal risks, internal policies and other legal structures need to be put in place to ensure proper governance and management. We work very closely with our clients on setting up these structures and we also make sure we keep them abreast with the latest legal developments that affect their particular industries.

What career advice do you have for aspiring lawyers now attending law school?

Stay focused and stay curious. The law is an ever-evolving creature, and you should always be open to learning and exploring new areas of practice. Read voraciously and keep abreast on legal developments not only in Malaysia but around the world. The trick is to always be analytical and creative in your thought process.

What do you hope to achieve in your career in the future – and what do you hope to see Ravindran achieve going forward?

Legal practice has evolved so much from the time I was called to the Bar and I believe with the advent of technology, legal practice will necessarily become even more dynamic and fast-paced in the near future. There will come a time when lawyers may not be necessary for some types of legal work and we need to be prepared to offer our clients more complex and dynamic services. I am very interested in building a team of young lawyers who are dynamic who can carry the firm into the future.

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